Canberra schools are shutting their doors to most students from tomorrow, here's what you need to know
PHOTO: The ACT Government says most students cannot attend school from tomorrow. (AAP: Dan Peled)
In a surprise announcement yesterday afternoon, the ACT Government announced all Canberra schools would be going "pupil-free" from Tuesday, giving teachers time to make arrangements as the outbreak of coronavirus stretches into term two.
To complicate matters, the Government insisted that did not mean schools were closing, and later that evening Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared schools should remain open this week around the country, but parents have the right to keep their kids at home.
It's a fast moving situation, with the Victorian Government bringing forward school holidays to tomorrow, and the NSW Government urging parents not to send their kids to school.
Here's what the ACT's announcement means for Canberra families.
So are Canberra schools closed?
Not really, but that doesn't mean students should attend.
The ACT Government says most students should stay home from Tuesday onwards — this applies to both government and non-government schools.
But exceptions will be made for students whose parents are "essential" workers. Those parents will be notified of arrangements today.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr strongly urged parents to keep their kids at home, but said any children that did turn up at school tomorrow would not be turned away.
"The schools are open today in order for some very practical things to occur — for students to be able to collect the items they will need to manage their distant online education for the rest of the year," he said.
"Kids who need to be at school because there are no other options will not be turned away and will be looked after. But we are asking parents who can keep their kids at home to do so."
The Government is stressing that schools are not going pupil-free because of immediate health concerns, but to give teachers time to prepare alternative learning arrangements — like much more online interactive content — from when term two begins in five weeks' time.
"Essentially schools will continue to operate but students don't attend," Education Directorate deputy director David Matthews said.
He says schools are working to supply learning materials that pupils can complete from home this week, with a view to implement alternative teaching arrangements from term two onwards.
"The ACT is digitally aware and able to move to online education," Education Minister Yvette Berry said yesterday.
Have ACT schools been exposed to COVID-19?
The only Canberra school closed today is Lyneham High, which is attended by a student who has tested positive for the virus.
This is to allow contact tracing to be done for the student, who attended school on Tuesday last week, when they may have been infectious.
Lyneham High is also being thoroughly cleaned today.
It is the only one of the ACT's 20 confirmed COVID-19 cases linked to a school.
So who should send their kids to school?
Mr Matthews said the Government would be contacting parents deemed essential workers today, to ensure their children can still attend school.
"That includes our healthcare workforce, and of course our teachers that will be working," he said.
"There are also vulnerable students in the community as well that we care deeply about, so we'll be making arrangements for them as well.
"The arrangements will initially be that the children will go back to their normal school."
Mr Barr stressed that any child that showed up at school would not be turned away.
What about childcare centres and universities?
As of the moment the Government will not be requiring childcare centres to close.
"We'll be working with the childcare industry to help them through this process," Mr Matthews said.
From next week, the Australian National University will deliver courses online where possible.
For lab classes and other courses that require in-person attendance, social distancing will be enforced.
The University of Canberra will continue with classes until Friday, when its mid-semester break begins.
Both universities have cancelled large gatherings, including graduation ceremonies, and UC has flagged that more information will be sent to staff and students today.